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Connectivity / SIC encouraged to ‘get mojo back’ in improving broadband connectivity

THE COUNCIL has been encouraged to “get its mojo back” and support Shetland Telecom in being able to expand broadband provision Shetland.

North Isles councillor Robert Thomson criticised the role BT has played in the roll-out of broadband in Shetland, saying it had an “Oliver Twist mentality” regarding receiving funding for projects – by ultimately saying “please sir, can I have some more”.

It comes, however, as a report is due to be presented to councillors later this year which explores extending the fibre network to settlements not currently in scope for the Scottish Government R100 scheme.

It was in line to be presented in September but development director Neil Grant told a meeting on Wednesday he would look into whether it can be published more quickly.

But he warned councillors that the projects due to be included in the report come at a “significant price”.

Grant also said the funding source for these possible projects are uncertain at the moment.

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The topic was first raised at Wednesday’s development committee meeting by Councillor Stephen Leask, who said Bressay Community Council members this week were discussing the slow pace of broadband expansion.

Leask said the R100 project – designed to bring superfast broadband to all properties in Scotland – is “nothing short of a disappointment for rural areas”.

Hard to reach areas which are set to be missed by the R100 project are being offered alternatives such as vouchers towards satellite broadband or 4G internet.

North Isles councillor Robert Thomson. Photo: Shetland News

Grant also said advisors will soon be appointed on a review of Shetland Telecom.

The organisation, which is part of Shetland Islands Council, was established around 2010 to deploy a local fibre broadband network.

That work has since formally ended but Shetland Telecom has continued with individual projects, including the installation of a new fibre network in the North Isles.

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SIC depute leader Gary Robinson said he felt the early ambition of Shetland Telecom dropped off after BT said it would step in and carry out the work.

“We’re still waiting to British Telecom to do stuff, that’s the honest truth of it,” he said.

Robinson added that public money goes into improving broadband but it “gets absolutely no consideration whatsoever” from BT – “we’ll take your money thank you very much, and we’ll charge you just the same”.

“I think we need to be smart about this and really try to put pressure on British Telecom to try to do more than they are.”

Thomson meanwhile said “if we sit back and wait for BT we’re going to get disappointed”.

He added that he thinks the council needs to “regain the ambition” on improving connectivity.

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Thomson also said prices quoted for outlying communities to upgrade broadband in their area have been “frankly ludicrous”.

For example, Clousta residents were quoted at £725,000 to receive a reliable and improved broadband connection. Split between the area’s 15 homes that comes to nearly £50,000 per property.

‘Internet is a basic right’ say Clousta residents faced with a £725,000 bill to get connected

Thomson alleged that the company was “profiteering”.

“My view is that let’s get our mojo back and get on with letting Shetland Telecom get to a position where it can actually do some things,” Thomson said.

Members of the development committee also gave the green light for the SIC to submit a bid to regulator Ofcom for ‘code powers’.

A report to members said: “Code powers confer rights on providers of networks and on providers of systems of infrastructure to install and maintain apparatus on, under and over land and results in considerably simplified planning procedures.

“The conferring of code powers would lead to operational efficiencies in installing, inspecting, maintaining and operating apparatus relating to the fibre network.”

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